There are so many options for guitar effects that it can be easy to get overwhelmed. When you look at a guitar set-up at a concert you may think you could never comprehend how to set a similar one up but even the most complex guitar rig can be broken into more bite-sized sections.
This guitar pedal introductory guide will get you started on the types of pedals that are out there before we get into the nitty gritty of it all. We’ll be looking at the categories and types of guitar effects that are out there and a rough guide on how to operate them. We can’t explain every pedal so make sure you have your instruction manual handy.
Later, we’ll be discussing the differences between the major effects pedals of the same type.
Types of guitar effects
Distortion - i.e. Overdrive, Grunge, Gain, Tube Screamer
Most amplifiers have their own distortion or crunch channel that can be activated by a footswitch. If your amp doesn’t have a distortion channel or you prefer another sound then you might want to use a stompbox distortion.
A good example for hearing the difference between a clean guitar and a distorted guitar can be observed in the music of Nirvana. Nirvana frequently made use of a riff being played clean at first and dirty later. The first line of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the same riff as the chorus but it is played without the distortion and then the band kicks in and the riff is played with distortion. Another good example can be heard in “Come as you are” where the song ends with the main clean guitar riff played fully distorted.
Popular distortion pedals – Boss DS-1, Big Muff, DOD Grunge, Ibanez Tube Screamer
Modulation effects - i.e. Chorus, Flanger, Phase Shifter, Ring Modulator
Examples of modulation effects are everywhere in music. It can have very broad effects on the guitar sound. A popular example of a phase effect is the rhythm guitar parts to “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd or “Us and Them” by Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and generations of artists to follow used Flanger, Rotary speaker and Chorus effects to produce different sounds with their guitars.
Mod pedals typically have level/mix, depth and rate knobs (these will obviously have varying names from effect to effect but we’ll survive). Level and mix can sometimes be separate, but they essentially control how much fx signal is mixed with the clean signal. Depth will control the extremity of the effect you are using. A chorus effect with the depth around 7 will sound like an alien life-form. Same with a flanger pedal. Put the depth on a chorus safely between 2 – 5.5 for the subtle effect of two guitars in one. Rate
Time-based effects - Delay, Echo, Reverb
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd made great use of delay effects in the guitar parts throughout his work with the band. There are memorable delay effects in many of the tracks on “The Wall”. The ping-pong guitar rhythm that is heard in “Run Like Hell” is mimmicked in two parts of “Another Brick in The Wall” and other various little bits on the album. Lead guitar players frequently use a very subtle echo or delay to give their guitar solo an extra bit of dazzle.
I have a multi-fx unit that is intended to be a standalone simulator of an entire guitar rig and its’ sole purpose in my set-up is to use its’ delay, echo and reverb function. A lot of amps and even some good mod-combo boxes have delay and reverb included as a side-function.
Volume effects - Volume, Tremolo, Auto-Gate
Morley Wah / Volume / Distortion – A great first pedal for beginner’s . It lets you get the hang of some major effects all in one unit.
A volume pedal can be used to simulate a backwards guitar sound. Autovolume pedals also create the effect of a guitar recording played in reverse. You can use a tremolo pedal to make your guitar sound like a helicopter. It does to a guitar sound what a strobe effect does to a light.
Envelope / Filtering effects - Wah pedal, Equalizer, Talk Box
The talkbox was used by Jimi Hendrix but later popularized in Peter Frampton’s unforgettable “Show Me The Way”. It was also a favorite of Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora, who uses it in the hits “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “It’s My Life”. Auto-wah effects, if used correctly, can produce some interesting sounds. A good example is the guitar solo in “Beverly Hills” by Weezer which uses an auto-wah. But if you’re anything like me you prefer ‘the real thing’. An old-fashioned manual wah pedal. The Dunlop Crybaby is practically a standard part of a rock or rhythm guitarist’s rig. Every great guitarist in popular music from Slash to Eric Clapton is known to use a wah pedal frequently.
Pitch effects - Whammy pedal, Octaver, Pitch-Shifter
The guitar solo in Black Sabbath’s Paranoid made interesting use of an Octaver pedal. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin also used Octave effects and they became popular with 80′s metal and arena rock bands. Later in the 90′s Tom Morello took it to another level with his memorable guitar solos in “Killing in The Name Of” and trademark ‘scratching’ technique heard in “Bulls On Parade” (the intro also uses a wah pedal). Morello makes full use of his whammy pedal to produce all kinds of angry insect noises heard throughout his recording career.
How to set up a guitar pedal
Effect stompboxes have input and output jacks. Some of them have multiple outputs for stereo effects but you need two amps to do this properly.
Direct Connection - Connect one end of a patch cable from your guitar to the input jack on your box. Connect another patchcord from the output of the pedal to the input on your amp.
Tip – Disconnect your patchcord from the input jack whenever you are not playing. This will preserve battery life.
Effects loop connection – Connect a patchcord from effects send on your amp to the input on your box. Connect another patchcord to the output on the pedal to the effects receive jack. The veteran readers will no doubt remember when to use the effects loop from September’s post, How to use the effects loop on a guitar amp.
Most effects units and pedals have an indicator light to show whether the pedal is on or not. When a pedal is in bypass mode the effects are off and the light will be off. Switch between modes by stepping on the pedal and if nessecary adjust the level to match the bypass level (the volume level of the guitar with the pedal switched off).
Well I hope this guide has helped you to understand some of the types of guitar effects pedals and you are on your way to deciding what pedal is right for your sound. If you still have questions feel free to leave a comment so I can help. Did I miss something? Feel free to let me know.
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